A Pre-Gran Slick Era Report From Sea Area Wight

This is a piece written by Steve Williams for Tube News which was published by Wessex Surf Club in 1985.


A Pre-Gran Slick Era Report From Sea Area Wight
by Steve Williams

Winter on the Island was confined mainly to the first three months of the year. A reasonable menu of waves – from ankle-snappers to back breakers – at a variety of spots, were available to Island surfers through late ’84 and into ’85. Yaverland, Compton, Niton, and Freshwater Bay all put in good shows during the period, as did lesser known spots such as Brighstone, Chilton Chine, Brook….. An afternoon’s sport in January waves, warm (relatively speaking) water, no gloves, sunshine even – like the calm before the storm. The sudden onslaught of winter proper really put the shutters down on any thoughts of carefree surfing: in fact it was quite the opposite, psyching yourself up for a brisk go-out off Spitzbergen. I have it on excellent authority , however that one or two did rise to the challenge during that February fortnight of razor sharp offshores and amazing swells, stacked up in curving walls from Hanover to the Bay. Awesome, given the temperature!

The slow sloughing-off of winter means cold water well into the year this time. It is fortuitous, therefore, that there are two new wetsuit suppliers based here, both in East Wight. Whilst  Sandown’s new “Barnstormer Sails” caters mainly for our windsurfing cousins, proprietor “Barney” Barnes also stocks Alder Steamers and spring suits as well as examples of their range of jackets, boardshorts, sweatshirts etc., all at competitive prices. He’ll custom make-you a robust board or wetsuit bag too.

Meanwhile, just up the road at Lake (unfortunate choice of location?) is the new Wight Water Adventure Sports, who will hire out catamarans, windsurfers, skis, canoes at preferential rates to Island Surfers provided you flash your current IOWSC membership card. Wight Water also have a franchise for wetsuits – make unknown as yet.

The home-made board industry is slowly gathering pace with one or two very respectable specimens in evidence – and word has it that there are moves afoot to start production in a certain garage not a hundred miles from Compton!

On a slightly different tack comes the following. One of the proudest possessions of the club at one time was a clinker-built canoe complete with out-rigger, mast, sail and paddles, which was somehow inherited from one of the original members and which was regularly sailed out into the bay on breezy Sunday afternoons in Summer. just about the last voyage was as a rescue craft for the poor blighters who failed to complete the traditional Freshwater – Compton Paddle Race some years back. Picture the scene: oars flying, five up, she scythed out across the bay on her mission of mercy, answering the call of some weary competitor adrift near the rocks at Compton Fields. Not half way across she began leaking; a piddling trickle at first, which quickly became a torrent. We turned  back to shore, amidst shouts from the stern of “bail you buggers, bail!” and peals of helpless laughter. She reached the shallows (just), whereupon a two foot swell swamped her, signalling the end of a long and distinguished career for this proud craft. The episode is preserved for posterity on film somewhere in the club’s archives. we put her in “dry dock” by the side of the hut where she remained neglected for a while, a sorry looking hulk. The final indignity came when we discovered that the boat had been stolen and flung on some local hooligans’ barbecue bonfire: that was the end of that. New moves are now afoot, though, to build another canoe. “We have the technology, we can rebuild”? Not quite; construction plans for this new craft should be arriving from Hawaii, courtesy of one of Tad Ciastula’s mates there, before too long.

In the meantime, the Club’s programme of events has been proceeding, albeit sometimes poorly attended, and despite the general torpidity of winter. we seem to be running low on sources for new surf videos – is this a general problem? Names and addresses of any new suppliers would be very useful.

Other projects being tackled this spring involve a shake up of the club communications; preparations for our beach-side “exhibitions” in May and July, with some new promotional material; and the thorny problem of fund raising to replace the by now dilapidated hut at Compton.

Despite being a small Island off a generally cool northern hemisphere country – itself and Island – we are nevertheless subject to outside influences. Barney Barnes, previously mentioned in another context, spent almost two years on the Caribbean Island of Tortola before returning to the U.K. recently. He can tell you “the other side of the coin” in summer, more surfable climes. Freshwater Bay aficionado, Pete Brown, regularly visits the Island in between stints in London and Australia; still stoked after all these years, though perhaps a little surprised after his last session here a couple of weeks back, when he admitted to being “shagged out and frozen stiff”! As if all this had not been enough, a brief spell of warm weather in April was sufficient to bring several locals out in a rash of “Biarritzitis” – a sure sign of approaching summer. I hope it fulfills its promise.

  • Were you one of the few who surfed that cold two weeks in the winter of ’84-’85?
  • How good was it?
  • Are there any images or movies?
  • Who was shaping boards in a garage not too far from Compton?
  • Are there any of these boards still around?
  • Is the Movie of the last voyage of the old Surf Club Outrigger still around or any other movies of the canoe in action.
  • Does anyone have any images?
  • Who won the Freshwater to Compton Paddle race?
  • Is anyone still in contact with Pete Brown?

Leave a Reply